Review Dedication: Many thanks to Cafe Libri Yahoo Group member Jeffrey Taylor for an engaging book discussion that aided in my research for this reviReview Dedication: Many thanks to Cafe Libri Yahoo Group member Jeffrey Taylor for an engaging book discussion that aided in my research for this review.
This is the first book I've read by author Naguib Mahfouz, and I was pleasantly surprised by the pace and development of the story and characters. Mahfouz is well-known as one of Egypt's first novelists; he dared to break traditions and focus on a genre that was not encouraged by his country. The passion and love he had for the novel is depicted in every word that he wrote. Though his writing style is simple and direct, he focuses on a specific time and place that connects readers to the myraid characters he develops in Midaq Alley. He doesn't give a fully detailed view of these characters, though, but instead provides a distant surface view of the scenes letting the reader fill in some of the gaps with their own imagination.
As I was reading, I was able to get inside the characters, understand some of the connections between everyone, and the reasons behind their motivations. I appreciated this approach rather than the typical omniscient narrator that tells the reader what they need to know.
The setting says a lot about the characters. The novel takes place in a small and poor alley (Midaq Alley) in Cairo, Egypt. There are over fifteen characters that live in this alley, and Mahfouz shows how they interact, or don't interact, based on the concerns facing each family. Many of the younger characters, like Hamida and Hussain, desperately try to escape the poverty that awaits them if they continue to live in the alley. Yet, no matter what happens to each character, no matter the tragedies or triumphs, life continues in the alley.
Midaq Alley is a novel about dramatic confrontations that stage the events in the lives of the characters created without surfacing all the personal conflicts that motivate those actions. One member in Yahoo Cafe Libri compared the novel to an opera because of the presentation of larger elements of conflict without the knowledge of the interior elements that support the actions and reasonings of the characters. I agree with Jeffrey's assessment because the novel does read like an opera or a play. For example, everyone has dramatic fights with each other, like a bad daytime soap, in which there is yelling, screaming, and storm-offs between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, daughters and mothers, etc. The reader doesn't understand why there is so much dissatisfaction with the status-quo and wonders if the characters even understand their own motivations and behaviors; why leave now? Where can they run to? Love is displayed with violent confrontations that often end with tragedy while sexual deviance arises as a minor subject matter in an already jam-packed book. The main point of confusion that might hit readers is whether or not the characters' actions are justified. Are they independent activities in the larger scheme of the alley or will they connect later to another point in the novel? In this sense, Midaq Alley reflects real life scenarios in which passions control characters' actions and logic takes a back seat as readers get carried away by the moment as painted by Mahfouz.
The story and plot focuses on life in the alley. Each chapter is almost like a vignette because the emphasis skips from character to character. For instance, one chapter is dedicated to Hamida and her search for the perfect, rich husband to take her away from the poverty of the alley while the next chapter focuses on the Kirsha family and the problems between husband, wife, and son. The stories don't always intersect, so sometimes it can be a little difficult to follow the plot, especially if you get invested in one character's story and then the novel switches to another character. I found myself impatiently waiting to see how Hamida's actions would affect her and her mother's lives as well as the multitude of beaus that were chasing after her. Eventually, I learned to appreciate each character for a different reason, and I especially came to respect the preachings of the spiritual advisor to the alley, Radwan Hussainy. His speeches and advice were always powerful and important even though many in the alley refused to listen. Hussainy represented the Islamic faith, and taught me new lessons about life even if he didn't always reach the people in his flock.
One part that was truly fascinating about life in the alley is how people were not always involved or interacting with each other, yet the gossip still spread when something bad happened. For example, Hamida never interacts with the Kirsha family, but they are quite aware of the scandal she causes with her finicky choices for a husband. The way the people in the alley interacted, or didn't interact, reminded me of a small suburb where everyone knows everyone else's business even if they don't speak to the people they are gossiping about. Some of the more exciting points were unplanned and unforeseen activities that are suddenly revealed closer to the end of the novel. One of my favorite moments was when Dr. Booshy's true personality is revealed when his relationship with Zaita, the town crippler, is revealed through some of their nefarious late-night activities. It was a surprising reveal and changed the way I viewed them and others in the alley.
The list of characters is extensive. My favorites were Hamida, the alley's beauty, Radwan Hussainy, the alley's spiritual leader and advisor, and Abbas, a young barber who loves Hamida. There is no real villain to the piece, although Zaita is the closest resemblance. He cripples people so that they can become professional beggars. There are all types of characters for every type of reader, and although all the stories don't have a finality to them, the reader is left with a realistic impression that this was just another few days in the life of one alley. There are more stories that lie in wait for those who escape the despair this time around.
There are many themes and motifs in this novel, which are tied together with the message and purpose of the author. One of the main themes that stood out to me was the affect that the British had on Egypt's development, even in such an insignificant place as this one alley. Since the novel takes place during WWII, there is the constant presence of war and fighting, which permeates the activities of the inhabitants of the alley. Many of the younger characters who are trying to leave the alley use the war as a means of escape. By serving at a trading post under the British army, they are able to live in a bigger city, save up money, and hopefully escape the poverty that is their destiny. Later in the novel, readers are introduced to a pimp that shows how the British army men want dark women who can dance a certain way to act as their "friends" during their brief stay in Cairo. There is even a school for prostitutes in which they are taught to look, act, and dress a certain way. Everything the women are taught is used to impress the seemingly rich, white soldiers.
Anger and violence is a major theme in the novel. The people in the alley feel helpless to escape their fates; everything has a fatalistic quality to it. Because of the injustices and fears the characters face everyday, they lash out at those closest to them or cheat others in order to get a small respite in their doldrum lives. Radwan Hussainy has the toughest job out of all those in the alley because he must advise all that despair. His message is usually the same: Leave everything in the hands of Allah, which is translated to God in my version of the text. People don't always listen to him, and they end up causing more harm to themselves than good. The preachings and teachings of Hussainy contrasts nicely with all the destruction the selfish people of the alley cause each other. If only they listened to what God wants rather than what they want, perhaps life would be easier and less disappointing.
By the end of the novel, situations have changed for different characters. For example, one person is now disconnected with life after having a brush with death while another has found wealth through a "career" change and a new state of mind. Whether or not these changes are for the better is asked but not answered. In the end, the truth lies with the perspective of each character, which aren't clearly defined. Midaq Alley ends with a climatic event that won't leave readers disappointed.
Since the book is written in a straight-forward manner, readers of any age would enjoy it. However, if they are unfamiliar with Egypt and the Islam religion, certain parts might seem confusing. The characters and the setting really make this book stand out, and although I was saddened by the ending, I was not disappointed by the outcome. In fact, I guessed some of the tragedies while others were still able to surprise me. I've never read a book quite like Mahfouz's, and I look forward to reading more of his novels in the future. ...more
I had been reading and hearing nothing but good things about Room, so I finally decided to see what the hype was all about. My reading pleasure was slI had been reading and hearing nothing but good things about Room, so I finally decided to see what the hype was all about. My reading pleasure was slightly tainted when the library gave me one week to read it. The book is that popular with the public! However, my friend Paula assured me that it was a quick read. This was not the case. Although I was able to finish the book in one week, it was out of sheer pride and stubbornness. I wanted to stop reading it numerous times, and if the library had given me longer than a week, I would not have finished it as quickly. I was determined, though, and didn't supplement my reading with more enjoyable titles. It didn't make sense to write a negative review of such a highly praised novel without making the extreme effort to finish the blasted thing.
If it wasn't apparent already, I didn't enjoy Room. I had been hearing things like "riveting," "realistic," "suspenseful," and "easily finished in a single reading." This was not the case. Everything in the book was predictable, even the grand finale. I sincerely mean everything too. Ask me about any "shocking" detail, and I will tell you when I knew that incident or detail was going to be revealed. Because of the predictability of Room, the book dragged on and on. The most mundane details that were supposed to tug at the readers' heartstrings had me yawning in boredom. Sigh. Jack is drinking from his mom's breasts again. Jack's watching Dora again. Etc. It was really a chore to finish a book that had no plot. It was a character driven piece, but when you can't relate to the characters, there's really nothing to care about other than the idea behind the book.
The idea behind Room is compelling and readers should be aware of it. The plot is inspired by the true story of Elisabeth Fritzl, an Austrian woman imprisoned by her father for twenty-four years. One of her sons, five year old Felix, was the inspiration for the protagonist Jack. Similar captivity stories that inspired this piece include the cases of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a woman from California, and Natascha Kampusch, another Austrian woman who later became an Austrian talk show host. Room may be fiction, but it was inspired by true events. What was described has happened and probably is still happening to this day. This knowledge and understanding alone does not make the book worthy of all the praise it's receiving. Actually, it puts more pressure on author Emma Donoghue to give justice and credence to the crimes committed against these women and their children. This was an opportunity to vindicate the victims, and I was sorely disappointed.
In all honesty, I didn't know much about these cases until after reading the novel. I was so disappointed by the writing that I had to understand Donoghue's inspiration behind Room. To a certain degree, Room succeeded by making me more aware of threats against women and children. I can't imagine the fear that this book stirs in anyone that has children, but I can better understand the need to protect the innocent from monsters that blend in with society. As a piece of fiction, though, Room failed.
The setting is an American city. We don't really know what city, but the emphasis on American coins, references to a new president, and other American quirks alert us to this country. That's not really important, though. What's important is that the family is being held captive in a garden shed fitted with soundproofed cork, lead-lined walls, and a coded metal security door. Only one person "visits" them, a man known by the nickname “Old Nick.” The specific dimensions of the room measures 11x11. This is not the only setting revealed in the book, but it is the most significant, which is why the title of the book is "Room."
As already mentioned, the story/plot mimics the real-life accounts of women held captive against their will. The significance of children and Jack's role in the novel is to show that the story affects other innocents born in captivity. It also minimizes the amount of brutality the author depicts through her writing. Most of the plot is about how "Ma," we never learn her name, and Jack have survived their captivity and continue to survive it. They desperately seek an ounce of normalcy in an inhumane and obviously not normal situation. Everyday activities take on new meaning in the confined spaces of Room. Jack "goes to school" and has lessons on reading, memorization, measurements, mathematics, and one of his most favorite classes, gym. All the activities are told from Jack's perspective as he is the narrator of this story. Ma's struggles don't go unnoticed, though, because Jack is a very astute and intelligent five-year old boy. He understands Ma's situation without even realizing it.
There are two serious issues I have with this story:
1. The narrator Jack 2. The descriptions of everyday activities that drive the nonexistent plot and character development, an aspect that suffered because of the weak point of view.
Jack is an unreliable narrator. This is not a bad concept as an unreliable narrator can add a lot of depth, mystery, and intrigue to a fictional work. In this case, viewing the whole situation from Jack's eyes just "watered-down" the experiences of these women. Donoghue tries to make up for this folly by juxtaposing points of childish innocence with the actual horrors of Jack's reality, an aspect that Jack can't always understand but the reader can. In order to present this simultaneous perspective, Donoghue sacrifices the integrity of her narrator. Jack does not talk like a young child who's been cut off from the world his entire young life (five years). He does act like a little kid, often imbuing human qualities and traits to nonhuman objects, such as "Plant" being his friend and the "Sun" being God, etc. At the same time that he uses and thinks what I call "baby talk," he can understand adult concepts such as the fall of the Berlin Wall or sing along to music well beyond the comprehension of a five year old. Then, the horrendous speech takes over, and the reader is repeatedly bashed over the head with the unknown depths of children's shows such as Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants. Jack is a contradiction. He doesn't understand his life, yet he does. There are moments of poignant awareness that deny Jack's innocence and age restriction. Donoghue tries to give the reader the best of both worlds through Jack: the innocent child perspective and the adult understanding of the horrors of Ma's and Jack's lives. By doing this, she sacrificed the connection between the reader and the characters.
Considering that nothing ever happens in the book save for about halfway through, Room is purely character driven. Unfortunately, the most interesting character, Ma, remains unamed throughout the story while being filtered through the eyes of her annoying son. The quality that made him annoying was the very style that everyone praises-- the constant reliance on his "baby talk." After ten pages, I was ready to scream. It was too contrived for my tastes. I craved moments of silence when Jack wasn't talking or thinking while other dialog occurred. I'm not a fan of the first person perspective, so add this to the unique style of Jack, and the book was doomed to be an unsatisfying read. If Donoghue had been more crafty with the use of the almost unintelligible "baby talk" and five-year old approach to the story, it might have worked. However, she tried to do too much with one character.
There are numerous themes and motifs sprinkled throughout the entire novel. The main one is that love conquers anything. No matter what happens in life, love makes pain, trauma, and in this case imprisonment, worth bearing. Of course the love that Donoghue highlights is between a mother and her child. Other themes include survival at all costs, acclimating to a new existence, effects the public, especially the paparazzi, have on the development of an individual's psyche, and the unknown strengths of a young hero. Only two themes stood out as absolutely necessary-- love and survival versus despair. A lot of the additional themes were thrown in as a way of making Jack's world right and giving readers the happy ending they wanted.
There weren't a lot of unique literary devices used other than metaphors, allusions, similes, and analogies. The stylistic quality that made it different from other novels was the point of view, Jack's. Ironically enough, this was the aspect that ruined Room for me.
I'm unclear as to the message/purpose of this piece. On one hand, I felt that Donoghue wanted to share how the real life situations of captive women affected her profoundly and deeply enough to write a fictional story about it. She wanted to "get the word out there" to a larger audience, and she felt that a fictional story was the best device. On the other hand, I feel like she exploited what these women went through for her own capitalist gains. She made their story more bearable to read by filtering it through the eyes of a young child. She wrote for a mass audience and to make a name for herself as a writer.
In order to share their story, the women loss their voices. Ma isn't even named in the novel, thus denying her a real identity outside of her societal role. At the same time, the women's stories became more horrifying because innocent children were harmed, young people who rely on others for protection. I didn't mind this emphasis, and do think that it's an important part of all the news articles. At the same time, I wanted to understand more about the women who were innocent victims in each case too. I didn't like how it had to be an either/or perspective rather than a shared experience between woman and child, which a third person narrative would have illustrated better. Finally, "watering down" any atrocity annoys me. You can't be afraid to see and understand the truth no matter how ugly it is.
I've never read anything by this author before, and I'm nervous to try again. If she relies on the "sensational" to make her characters and story more interesting, then no thank you. I'm not interested in contrived literary techniques. It shows that her writing skills and talents for telling a story are desperately wanting. A writer shouldn't rely on a gimmick to sell a story. The actual contents of the book need to be strong enough to stand on its own. I've never read anything like Room before, unless you count Misery. After reading Room, I'm tired of the entire concept. I would rather read the news articles and true-life accounts of this situation as told by the victims rather than a fictional retelling.
Overall, there's pros and cons to reading this novel.
1. The concept/reality behind the book. 2. Learning about the real events that inspired the author. 3. The hope and love that good things can and do happen no matter how bad the situation appears. I'm a sucker for happy endings, no matter how unrealistic.
1. Language/narrative perspective. 2. Predictability/lack of suspense. 3. The lack of realism for the latter half of the book.
Do I regret reading this book? A little. Would I read it again? Never! Still, it's not the worst piece of writing that I've read, and I do give credit to what the author attempted. I would recommend Room to young adults because they are the target audience. Based on the reviews, though, people of all ages might enjoy it as long as the narrative voice doesn't drive them batty like it did me.
For those of you looking for a funny anecdote, I was reading and exclaiming at the same time when my husband asked me what was wrong. I gave him the book, and he read a few pages. Eventually, he looked up and shook his head in disbelief. "Are you kidding me," he asked before walking away. No, I'm not. The narrator is that distracting and annoying. Be prepared for over 300 pages of gibberish child language. ...more
To be honest, my first inclination was to rate Peony in Love as an "average" read. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. My initial disappointmenTo be honest, my first inclination was to rate Peony in Love as an "average" read. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. My initial disappointment reflected my expectations of the novel while reading. First, the title and purpose of the book were misleading, at least as far as I was concerned. I expected a retelling of The Peony Pavilion, a tale that reminded me of Romeo and Juliet.
Because Peony in Love began as a retelling of a famous Chinese opera, much of the story in Part 1 was predictable, which lessened my overall enjoyment. Why read this book when I could have read the original opera, which was probably better? Then, the story morphed into something different. However, the twists made the tale difficult to follow. Was this a love story about Peony and her mysterious poet? Was this a love story about a family, specifically the women of the Chen Family Villa? These were just two of many questions that plagued me all through Parts I and II.
As the book progressed, I realized that the theme and purpose revolved around a love for writing, which wasn't clear until Part III. After finishing the novel, I gave myself time to reflect on its meaning and slowly grasped the massive undertaking that Lisa See took. True, this was a retelling of The Peony Pavilion, but it was even more. See explored the writing and creation of The Three Wives' Commentary, an academic book written by three women:
1. Chen Tong, born ca. 1649 (Peony in the book) 2. Tan Ze, born ca. 1656 3. Qian Yi, born ca. 1671
These women were Chinese scholars, not officially recognized, who loved writing. Their importance is best expressed by See herself in the brief history reference at the beginning, "In 1694, The Three Wives' Commentary became the first book of its kind to be written and published by women anywhere in the world."
Peony in Love deserved a higher rating because of its complexities, storytelling, and See's goal: To show that women have been writing and publishing as long as men, even if their stories got "lost" in history. This is the same theme I express with many historical fiction short stories I write. I'm still in awe at how See brought these different stories together into one masterpiece.
As I mentioned, the book is divided into three parts:
Part I: In the Garden Part II: Roaming with the Wind Part III: Under the Plume Tree
The setting is seventeenth century China after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed. The reader sees the "world" through the young eyes of Peony, who's turning sixteen. The Chen Family Villa is exquisitely described, especially since a lot of women weren't allowed to leave their family compounds until marriage. The setting is enhanced by the historical research (the novel is based on a true story), and the Chinese traditions and rituals that See painstakingly paints of another time and place foreign to many modern readers.
The poetic beauty of ancient China is mirrored by the colorful characters that See develops. Even though the book is about three women, the entire story is told from the first person perspective of Peony. This stylistic choice annoyed me, though. I wanted more insights into other characters, like Peony's mother, father, grandmother, and most especially the two other female writers, Tan Ze and Qian Yi. I felt cheated that everything was filtered through Peony, who I quickly wrote off as a silly "lovesick maiden."
At first, Peony was the most boring character. Her actions were predictable and reflected her young, immature mindset. She was a spoiled and selfish brat. I didn't respect anything she wrote or thought because she was always thinking of herself. There were many important events happening outside Peony's little world, especially to her mother and grandmother, and I was frustrated that she was blind to them. Of course, that was how she was raised to be.
As the book progressed, so did Peony's thinking. Slowly, I warmed up to her. I never did embrace her character fully, but I appreciated the positive affects the other characters had on her as well as her growth throughout the story.
Out of all the characters, my favorites were Tan Ze and Qian Yi. Tan Ze was an amazing antagonist while Yi represented a delicate balance between Ze's and Peony's overwhelming personalities.
Lisa See had numerous resources to use to make this book successful, and it shows in her writing style. The story was practically written for her, at least through historical documents. Rather than waste unnecessary time on the plot, she spent a great deal developing her characters and expanding on their personalities, which history very rarely captures accurately if at all. See's writing flows on the pages of the book like water down a stream. Everything is very precise and poetic at the same time. She uses traditional ideas that women are too emotional or weak to reflect on the strengths of the fairer sex. In this way, she undermines the preconceived notion that emotional writing cannot be academic writing. These women were scholars in their time period and are still acclaimed critics today...and what they analyzed was the theme of love, both in their own lives and in the opera.
Peony in Love is a read that many adults would enjoy and maybe some teenagers depending upon their intellectual capabilities. It helps if you are already interested in Chinese culture, literature, and history. I cannot express enough how useful a degree in Chinese literature or history would be when reading this piece. Specifically, if one has read either The Peony Pavilion or The Three Wives' Commentary your understanding and enjoyment of Peony in Love will increase. There are too many nuances that are missed, and it's easy to become confused like I was without a better appreciation of what See is writing about. I recommend reading, at least a couple of times before starting the book, her Chinese history introduction and the preface from The Peony Pavilion included at the beginning of Peony in Love. They both inform the purpose of See's writing and sets an appropriate tone/mood. Finally, at the end of the book, Lisa See includes a very important "Author's Note" and "Acknowledgements" section that further illuminates her intentions and the sources she used when writing. Again, I recommend reading both sections a few times after having completed the book to solidify your comprehension.
I'm very grateful I took the time to reflect on my reading because it allowed me to appreciate Peony in Love for all it has to offer rather than relying on my initial shallow thoughts. Still, I couldn't rate this book a +5 purely because I didn't like Peony's voice, which could have been stronger. Some parts of the artistic layout also frustrated me. I would have preferred the women to have separate perspectives that come together at the end of the novel rather than filtering everything through Peony. Still, this was an amazing attempt at perfection. I only hope that my writing inspires others the way Lisa See's did....more
I debated a long time over whether or not The God of Small Things deserved a +4 or a +5 rating. The difference between the two ratings seems rather arbitrary, but it's really not. Giving a read a +5 rating means it was perfectly written, and that it is a must read. Upon many days of reflection, I declare that this novel is in fact perfectly written, and it should be read by all even though it won't be understood by all, which is the unfortunate truth of many classic contemporary world literatures. This happens because many Western readers don't understand other cultures (the strangeness of things written or foreign words). This can cause many readers to feel isolated and disconnected from the narrative. To prevent this from happening, before reading The God of Small Things, one should have some knowledge/understanding of India, the Indian Caste System, and postcolonialism. With a little research and a group discussion with other readers, this book comes alive and leaves you wanting more from Arundhati Roy.
The God of Small Things takes place in 1969 in the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India. This is a turbulent time for India because of Marxist movements that are occurring, which threaten to overturn India's caste system. The workers are rebelling while the authority figures (police officers) continue to condone the status quo to keep certain Indians in their place. According to one news article, in 1968, "160 complaints were filed against the police for activities ranging from murder, torture, and collusion in acts of atrocity, to refusal to file a complaint." Even though "untouchability," as the lowest caste members are described, was officially banned in India in 1950, discrimination continues past that date, as demonstrated by the actions in the novel (which are semi-biographical) and by current events. Another website further elaborates how the caste system is especially present in India's rural areas. The statistics say that there are about 250 million Untouchables and "the United Nations estimates that there are 115 million child laborers and 300 million starving people in India, most of which are Untouchables."
The setting is very important in the novel because it describes and defines these injustices (how the caste system tears people apart, even in one's family) as well as the influences of religion (traditional and Christianity) on the peoples. Without some knowledge of India's history and current affairs, the setting loses much of its significance.
The setting is only one piece to a very complex story and plot. Because of constant shifts in time, it's difficult for the average reader to follow the narrative. The disjointed narrative is important, though, because Roy shows that time and history is not linear. Things that happen in our pasts can launch unforeseen complications in our lives, like throwing a stone in a pond and watching the ripples spread out from the origin point. All of history is connected, and it often repeats itself. Roy shows this and more. She forces the reader to stay alert. This isn't a "beach read novel." This is a piece of literature that asks the reader to step outside her or his comfort zone and take a glimpse into someone else's lives, in this case three main characters:
1. Rahel (girl) and Esthappen Yako (Estha): fraternal ("two-egg") twins
2. Ammu: their mother, born 1942. Married to "Baba" ("father": his real name is never given) and divorced.
There are a slew of other important characters, but delving too deeply into them would spoil the story for any who desire to read this magnificent novel and be surprised. Here is a simple list of other characters without any spoilers compiled by Paul Brians:
***Baby Kochamma (born Navomi Ipe): Rahel and Estha's grandfather's sister--their grand-aunt. "Kochamma" is not a name, but a standard female honorific title.
***Sophie Mol ("Sophie girl"): the twins' cousin, daughter of their Uncle Chacko and Margaret Kochamma. Throughout the novel, "mol" is "girl" and "mon" is "boy."
***Margaret Kochamma: daughter of English parents, former wife of Chacko, then of Joe, mother of Sophie Mol.
***Mammachi (Shoshamma Ipe): blind grandmother of Rahel, Estha, and Sophie Mol, founder of the family pickle factory. "Mammachi" simply means "grandmother."
***Pappachi (Benaan John Ipe): late abusive husband of Mammachi. ("Pappachi: of course means "grandfather.")
***Chacko: son of Mammachi, divorced first husband of Margaret.
***Joe: second husband of Margaret, died 1969.
***Kochu Maria: "Little Maria": the tiny cook of the household.
***Larry McCaslin: Rahel's American husband.
***Velutha Paapen: Paravan untouchable around whom much of the action revolves.
***Vellya Paapen: his father.
The story centers around the twins' lives and their relationships with those around them, mainly their family members and a few of the servants who work for their family. There are a few key events in the twins' childhoods that define who they become as adults, i.e. the visit to the movie theater, Sophie Mol's visit to India, etc. It's important to note that Ammu and her family come from money even though they don't have a lot left. They are high up on the social caste and interact with their Untouchable servants as little as possible.
The plot is really complex with many stories being told simultaneously. The central one, however, is called "The Terror." To disclose what it is would spoil the journey Roy takes her readers on to discover "truths" about family and history. Needless to say, there are choices and decisions in the characters' lives that change who they become.
The character development is intense and complex because of the time-shifts. The story begins twenty-three years after the main events with tons of flashbacks and flashforwards in the rest of the narrative. At the start of the novel, the twins are young, just children. At various points the reader glimpses them as adults, how their lives as children ended abruptly (the loss of innocence). Other family members change over the course of time, many becoming broken shells, ghosts of their former, lively, and carefree selves.
Arundhati Roy's largest triumph with her character development is her ability to enter the mind of children without compromising their innocence or being condescending about childhood in general. She enters into their thinking in a way that few authors have ever been able to. She does not make them sentimental characters, but instead reveals fierce passions and terrors that bring the twins closer together even as it almost destroys them. These fierce passions and terrors live with them as adults. Some might even say their growth and maturity was stunted because of what happened to them as children. You will have to read more and discover the truth in Roy's magnificent language.
Language is both the saving grace and often the most cited failing of this novel. Some describe Roy's writing as "poetry," which is how I view it. Others explain that her story lacked focus or that her writing techniques confused them, particularly some of the Salman Rushdean stylistic tricks such as capitalizing Significant Words and runningtogether other words. If this didn't make the reading a little slower for some, the Malayalam words and phrases she uses would do it for many others, although Roy provides contextual translations for those who are close and critical readers to spot these definitions when they are given. Basically, I can't stress enough how important it is to really READ this novel. Like any good poetry, one needs to take her or his time, process a little bit, and then come back for more. I highly recommend taking notes and even insist on multiple readings to truly understand the complexities of the story and language. This is when reading this book in a class or with other people would be helpful for one's understanding. I also highly recommend perusing the Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things Study Guide after having read the book (hence the second reading recommendation). It's important to read it afterwards because there are many spoilers revealed in the study guide.
There are a plethora of themes and motifs found in The God of Small Things. They vary from love, madness, hope, infinite joy, family relations, trust, and regret, to name just a few. They might read simply here, but they are complex and intertwine with all the characters from the twins to their Uncle Chacko to their little cousin Sophie Mol. Everyone is affected by the decisions made by a few. The themes should resonate with all readers, even if you have no experience with India's culture. Who hasn't loved so deeply that they would break all the rules? Just think of Romeo and Juliet. Love and tragedy go hand-in-hand when it comes to classic literatures. And it's not just romantic love discussed in The God of Small Things. Even Ammu's children don't feel they deserve to be loved by their mother and families. They are just never good enough...never white enough.
Just like the themes and motifs, there are myriads of literary elements used. This book was discussed in an undergraduate postcolonial literature class taught by Sr. Aaron at Dominican University of California, and for good reason. Arundhati Roy is a literary genius. She uses traditional literary conventions, like metaphors, similes, sycophancy, alliteration, and more to make her writing lyrical and poetic. She also creates her own masterpiece language, inspired by other great authors like Rushdie. I would say only "inspired by" because she creates her own disjointed rhythms, her own language that is described as being "at once classical and unprecedented." Roy's book and writing is truly magical, weaving a story that few will ever forget.
The message and purpose of Roy's story is multi-fold. First, she wanted to tell some of the story of her mother's life, who she dedicated the novel to. Paul Brians describes it as follows:
Mary Roy is the author's mother, who struggled to raise Arundhati on her own while teaching in the rural village of Aymanam (called "Ayemenem" in the novel) in southwestern India, in Kerala State. Arundhati left home at age sixteen to study architecture in Delhi.
Another reason for writing this novel was to give the readers some history about India, specifically Kerala, which is known for its relative freedom for women. Paul Brians warns in his Study Guide that Western readers should not read the female characters as being constrained. Instead, Roy depicts the women as having been hurt by male domination but constantly fighting and struggling against this dominance with a courage and assertiveness that gives hope to those who are oppressed. Although things can't always end happily, the characters keep fighting for what is right and praying that "The God of Small Things" will hear their prayers and change will take root. It only takes one person to make a difference in another's life, good or bad.
The third and final reason for writing this novel was Roy was partly protesting the South Asian prudery which stands in the way of love, one such aspect being the Indian Caste System.
I haven't read a novel as good as this one in a long time. The God of Small Things reminds me of readings from postcolonial classes, such as Heart of Darkness and many of V.S. Naipaul's works. This is a novel that I hope to teach someday, and it puts many other works that focus on a child's perspective to shame, simply inferior writing, such as Jack in Room.
Arundhati Roy is truly an amazing writer and storyteller. She was trained as an architect, yet she left this career to pursue writing, first as a production designer and then a writer of screenplays, two of which were made into films. Then, she wrote this masterpiece. As far as I can tell, this is her only novel, although she is reported to be working on her second. Even though she doesn't have another novel, she continues to write screenplays. Arundhati Roy is a social activist and feminist speaking out for various causes. She cares about the world and its people, especially those in her own country.
Overall, my emotional reaction was tremendous. While reading this novel, I went up and down as if I were riding a roller coaster. When the book ended, I even cried, not from the tragedies that were described but from the passions of the characters and the love-- an all consuming love that is worth any sacrifice. There is a sense of hope that runs deeper than any of the family wounds. I couldn't imagine a reader not feeling something as they progress through this novel, even if it's annoyance that the book is forcing them to think.
As I already stated, I recommend this book to everyone. It's a "must-read." I do recommend that younger readers wait until they are in college before attempting this novel purely because it is a complex piece of literature. Plus, much of the subject matter is rather depressing, and it might be difficult for a younger reader to get through it all.
The God of Small Things is an important novel and everyone should read it because of the messages enclosed in its pages: equality, the affects of religion, and the importance of showing and sharing love with everyone in your life (such as your own family and children). These themes cross boundaries and many of the issues stop becoming just India's problems and reach across oceans as something all peoples can work on despite our differences.
The most important thing I recommend to all those reading this novel is keeping some important resources nearby to help with your understanding. I recommend the following websites:
There are many facts and research information available in this novel, but without a preliminary background and understanding about India and its people, this repertoire of knowledge will be lost on most readers.
Get the most from this novel by putting in a little extra effort and work while reading it....more
This is a rather cryptic and mysterious book. It reads like poetry and explores the "messed up" mind of Laney, a suburban housewife and the protagonisThis is a rather cryptic and mysterious book. It reads like poetry and explores the "messed up" mind of Laney, a suburban housewife and the protagonist. I Smile Back has an air of Sylvia Plath and Kate Chopin but it is not as artistically or engagingly written.
The book is structured like a play in three sections:
* "Act One: North Jersey, Labor Day, 2002" * "Intermission" * "Act Two: North Jersey, Five Weeks Later"
The setting of New Jersey is average enough but extremely important. The suburban location is important to the overall theme of the book and Laney's mental development. Does middle class living imply a happy and fulfilling life? The quote at the beginning of the book answers this question: "Show me a single wound on earth that love has healed" (Jim Harrison). The setting and tone of the book has an intense air of depression that drags the reader into the depth's of Laney's hopelessness.
Laney has everything a woman her age could want: a loving husband, two beautiful and intelligent children, good looks, and financial security (to name a few). Yet, it is not enough for Laney. She constantly feels smothered by her "perfect life." She has no friends, doesn't know her husband, and sees her mortality reflected in the faces of her children. She plays the perfect role of house wife, but it provides no reason for existing. As the novel progresses, the reader is drawn into Laney's mind as well as the mysteries of her past which play into her fears and influences a lot of her destructive actions.
Countering her destruction is Bruce, the ever "helpful" husband. They were teenage sweethearts, and he doesn't understand what happen to the woman he fell in love with. Even though he does everything to get her help, to cure the neuroses, he comes off as a pompous and controlling jerk. He doesn't understand that he is part of the problem. Laney does not want to be simply a wife and mother. Laney's original desires have changed as she's grown older, and her family cannot change with her.
The hardest aspect of the book, other than the utter hopelessness and depression, is the family life. Everyone is a victim and everyone gets hurt by Laney's use of drugs and promiscuous sleeping around. However, the people who are the most helpless to do anything, the people who should be protected from this shock of reality, are Laney's two children: Janey and Eli. The affects of Laney's neuroses messes up their development, as apparent with Eli's eye ticks. They can feel that something is wrong between mommy and daddy, but they cannot understand or help their parents. It is really depressing to see how children are affected by the sins of their parents. I felt like crying every time I read more and more about Laney's children.
This book is about people, most noticeably Laney, Bruce, and their children Janey and Eli. There is no traditional plot that leads us to a denouement. Instead, there are snapshots into one person's life. The pictures don't always connect chronological, though. While reading, I often felt like I was in a drunken stupor trying to connect the pieces to this puzzle.
The book deals with others trying to understand Laney's puzzling life, such as issues of psychology as well as rehabilitation. What the author thinks of psychologists and treatments is expressed by the predictable ending. For me, there were no surprises to this book. Everything happened the way I guessed. You never truly understand the human mind. That is life.
Overall, I recommend reading this book only if you are interested in the human mind, psychology, or are in the mood for a depressing and hopeless story. The style of writing is interesting with vivid details, but it doesn't compare with classic women author's who wrote about similar issues. For me, this is a modern day rewriting of The Awakening with all the filth, language, and medical jargon that embodies the 21st century....more
This was one of the best emotional roller coaster rides a book has taken me on in a long time. I have never been a fan of Louisa May Alcott's books because they always felt a little too wholesome. A Long Fatal Love Chase, however, shows that Alcott was able to write about the darker sides of human nature, especially as it concerned obsession.
The book not only explores the obsessive dark nature of humanity, but it takes the reader all around the nineteenth century European continent. It begins and ends, though, in a very fitting setting: a remote island off the coast of England. On this island lives a young and naive eighteen year old girl, Rosamond Vivian and her heartlessly indifferent grandfather. After just a few pages into the book, Phillip Tempest, a devastatingly charming and handsome man who is twice Rose's age, sweeps the young heroine off her feet as they travel the world in his yacht the Circe. The setting changes both because of their travels after being married and because of the infamous chase. The reader is taken across Italy, France, and Germany to a variety of locations such as a convent, chateau, and even a mental institute. The settings are brought to life with dark and vivid details. There are also many land marks that alert the reader where the chase has taken the characters next.
It's important that the setting takes the reader around the world because otherwise we wouldn't understand the fervor of the chase. Everything begins like a typical love story, but even then there are a lot of foreshadowing hints of darker days to come. Rosamond, in her naiveté, does not understand who Tempest really is before it's too late. About six chapters into the book, the dichotomous natures of the characters really becomes apparent--the innocent versus the experienced. The good and wholesome girl versus the power hungry evil man. It is at that moment when Alcott takes the reader on the most dangerous chase where freedom, and even life and death, are at stake.
Because the book was written in chapter installments for a newspaper, each section ends with a mystery that pulls the reader deeper into the story. This is the perfect tactic to keep the reader on edge as if she or he were being chased in real life. This writing style brings the story and plot to life. Unfortunately, the character development suffers. Rosamond is the only one who ever adapts and changes during the chase. She begins the book at eighteen years old, a sheltered and lonely girl, and ends the book around twenty-two or twenty-three years old, jaded and suspicious of those around her because of the Tempest's harsh treatment and unfailing pursuit. The rest of the characters feel a little flat because they are created to represent extremes about human nature. There are numerous points where the reader feels as if Tempest is changing and growing, but he always reverts back to old and comfortable habits. Ignatius, Rose's monk and confidant, is the polar opposite of Tempest. He represents all that is good and healthy about love and sacrifice while Tempest represents the overindulgence and control that men from history often felt about life, especially during the Victorian era. Rose's grandfather seems different by the end of the book, but the reader never sees how or why he changes because we are too busy with the chase. Other supporting characters, such as Baptiste, Tempest's faithful servant, and Lito, Tempest's little Greek servant, offer interesting surprise developments during the progression of the story. Regardless of whether the characters seemed "realistic" in their presentation, every single person the reader meets adds to the mystery and suspense. There were many surprises as it's discovered that appearances can be deceiving, even with minor supporting characters.
The themes and motifs of A Long Fatal Love Chase are tied to the characters with the most obvious theme being that appearances can deceive. There are lots of allusions made to the devil and Mephistopheles, a demon who worked for the devil. Other themes included women's freedom from an oppressive and patriarchal society, reflected in the role of a husband, women's yearning for monetary freedom to travel the world, whether or not monks and priests should have the religious freedom to marry, and the most important motif--love. Love is explored in all its heavenly glory and darker depths. The reader is drawn into questions about whether love is fleeting, if it change over time, and who can truly claim that he or she loves someone based on their actions. Love takes on its own life as it becomes a character in the book. Love is obsession. Love is not letting go of someone, or even the idea of someone. Love is powerful and destructive. Love changes. It's the most interesting exploration of love since William Shakespeare's tragic play Romeo and Juliet. A Long Fatal Love Chase was easier to indulge one's imagination into because the language was not as convoluted or archaic as Shakespeare's. This attribute is because A Long Fatal Love Chase was written in the Victoria era.
Because the book was written in the Victorian era, it relied on traditional Gothic elements to hold the reader's interest throughout the mystery and suspense of the story. There were dark storms, eerie descriptions of people and buildings, and little mysteries that weren't solved until many chapters later in the book. The cliff hanging chapter endings also contributed to the Gothic and "sensational" feel of the book.
Along with the Gothic literary devices, there were many similes and metaphors used throughout the book, like comparing Tempest to Mephistopheles. These literary and mythological references were difficult to note or understand without some education of the history of literature. There have been many critics who speculated that Louisa May Alcott included these cultural references as a shortcut in creating her characters, tones and moods; after all, she wrote the book in just two months! Some references in A Long Fatal Love Chase include "Mariana in the Moated Grange," a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson about a young woman who is abandoned by her lover when she loses her dowry. Ganymede is referenced to describe the Greek boy Lito (Ganymede was an attractive Greek boy who became Zeus' lover). Even the character of the monk Ignatius can be compared to the Catholic Saint Ignatius because of their demeanor, attitudes, and histories. For those who are reading A Long Fatal Love Chase and want more information on these literary references, check out the text file located in the Yahoo Cafe Libri Reading Group.
Some members in the Yahoo Cafe Libri Reading Group likened the story to something that Jo from Little Women would have written even going so far as to provide quotes from that book. Jo did in fact write sensational novels but unlike Louisa May Alcott, whose story was published posthumously in 1995, experienced success with her writing. Alcott's original reason for writing the story was similar to Jo's--they both needed to make money to provide for their families. Although brilliant as a transcendentalist, Alcott's father struggled to support his wife and children.
Though Louisa May Alcott never published A Long Fatal Love Chase in the reading magazine as originally planned (it was most likely dropped because of the scandalous content), it represented many of her sentiments in regards to women's rights. Alcott wrote about ideas that were unpopular in her lifetime through the guise of this "sensational novel." During a time period when it would have been unpopular to say that women deserved to have freedom from their husbands, had a right to divorce, and should be allowed to keep their children even after said divorce, Alcott spoke out in a loud clear voice. She firmly believed that women should not be treated like objects to be owned and conquered as she expressed in A Long Fatal Love Chase. Because of the unpopularity of these ideas, her manuscript was overlooked. Alcott has no answers to many of the questions she raised in A Long Fatal Love Chase, like why Tempest was so obsessed with Rose, but she does show how a bright young flower can wither and fade from being held too tightly. A woman needs space to breathe, and this book hearkens to many sentiments that would be later expressed by Virginia Woolf's essay A Room of One's Own.
A Long Fatal Love Chase is highly recommended to any reader, no matter your age, gender, or ethnicity. It is a compelling read because of its fantastic story that gets you thinking about major life issues. I fervently hope that this book is adapted into a film because it would be amazing to see this story brought to life through a visual interpretation. Though many parts are predictable to a close reader because of the overuse of foreshadowing, the ending still leaves a chilling feeling in the pit of a reader's stomach. It's a story that I will remember forever and would gladly read again just to live through the chase, both the romantic and frightening aspects of it, one more time....more
I have read and heard many positive critiques about Philippa Gregory, so I was really excited to finally read one of her books. Unfortunately, the hypI have read and heard many positive critiques about Philippa Gregory, so I was really excited to finally read one of her books. Unfortunately, the hype did not live up to my expectations.
Fellow readers claim that this book takes a new approach to Katherine of Aragon's life with a predominant focus on her marriage to Prince Arthur. Yes, this is true. It does focus on that five month period but at what cost? This is not the most fascinating part of Katherine's life, especially considering all that was left out from the book. This focus on an untouched aspect of her life was really just an excuse to highlight romantic aspects of the characters' relationships, which more than likely didn't exist in real life.
One of the major critiques of the book was the unusual focus on the romantic relationships. I enjoy reading historical romances, but that is not what I expected when I picked up The Constant Princess. Even if I was hoping for a romance novel, this one paled in comparison to others of the genre that I've read. Gregory targeted a certain audience with her drivel, women romance readers, rather than us lovers of history. Additionally, the whole approach to the story just felt wrong. None of it was realistic. When a reader picks up a historical fiction genre book, we hope to be fascinated by how facts and history are translated into a more creative form rather than a romanticized re-telling of history. Throwing in a couple of important dates or real people from history does not make the book historical fiction.
Gregory wrote Katherine's history as a character tale because that gave her the most freedom to play with the fiction elements of her book. Many intimate details are revealed about all the characters, including Henry VIII's obsession with Katherine (and even his own father's obsession with his daughter-in-law). Katherine's personal life and thoughts are indicated by the use of italicized first-person narrative spread intermittently throughout the third person traditional story-telling style. At first, I found this aspect intriguing. However, the thrill quickly wore off. These portions were overly dramatized and redundant. Katherine came off as a wishy-washy, whiny woman. She would have faith in God one minute because she was chosen and then, just as quickly, lose it all because of bad luck in her life. If Gregory had dramatically reduced these portions in the book, I would have enjoyed the reading more because it would have highlighted these few poignant moments. Instead, I found myself skipping ahead to the more-compelling third person narrative.
Philippa Gregory states at the conclusion of her book and on her website that she wanted to portray Katherine as a strong woman, which is why she ended it the way she did. To put it bluntly, she failed. Katherine's whole reason for committing the heinous lie of history (that she was a virgin when she married Henry VIII) was because another made her promise to lie. She was to continue the lie because she was told to not because she wanted to be Queen of England. This decision needed to be all about Katherine to make her stand out as the strong woman that history has depicted her as. She told the lie or the truth (after all, we can only speculate on this matter because this is a gray area of history) because she desired the power, freedom, and political connections a continued marriage to the king of England would provide.
Alas, the entire book was not redundant with childish writing and bad grammar. There were some interesting parts, such as the last ten or so pages of the book. Katherine shows herself as a warrior who bravely leads her troops against the villainous Scots. Where was this Katherine hiding throughout the entire book? Too bad she didn't make an appearance until the end! Excluding this, the only other high point of the book was when Katherine is introduced as a child in Granada at the very beginning. Even in this situation, her mother, Isabella of Spain, shined more than her daughter. Now, that's a historical fiction book I want to read!
Overall, most of the characters were not developed strongly enough or were too comical in their overly emotional presentations. Sadly, any historical elements to the book were told to the reader rather than shown or described through the narrative.
I expected much more from Philippa Gregory, but she never delivered the fascinating glimpse of British history that she is raved for. I'm not excited to pick up any of her other titles even though I did enjoy the Hollywood adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl. I just don't see the point if all I have waiting for me is disappointment. ...more
Initially, I was very excited to have won Under Man's Spell as my first Goodreads Giveaway novel because it closely described the types of literatureInitially, I was very excited to have won Under Man's Spell as my first Goodreads Giveaway novel because it closely described the types of literature I read and study at college. I'm fascinated by the postcolonial worlds and having read contemporary pieces by Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to name a couple, I was excited to see what former Tanzania resident J.K. Muta had to offer.
From the very first chapter, I realized this was not the type of book which could compete with authors I had studied and analyzed while in college. The writing was too pedantic. I still hoped the book could stand on its own, especially considering its focus on women. By the time I finished chapter one, I knew it didn't matter what the subject matter was. This was not a well-written book.
There were many flaws to this book. The writing style was the most glaring problem. It was written as if someone was telling a story rather than describing or living it. Every detail, no matter how inconsequential, was included and repeated throughout the entire book. It was extremely boring to read the same things over and over again. Many of these nonessential details could have been cut to increase the pace of the story, such as describing the characters when they rode bikes around town or were washing up after eating. Subsequently, I couldn't find one quote worthy to save. Another major flaw to the story was the overall scope. The story encompassed a generation of people that by the end of the novel turns out to be related, albeit a bit distantly. Until that point, the reader is confused as to who the characters are and why the story jumps around, both location and time period. I forgot who people were, especially when there were at least ten or more chapters between character highlights and focuses. Including a family tree at the beginning of the book could have solved many of these problems. A map of Tanzania and an index of Tanzania words would have also helped with the understanding of the location and language of the characters. Relating and feeling anything for the characters and the horrors they went through was nonexistent because the writing was so detached. It was also strange and confusing that practically all the men in the novel were evil. They always wanted the women for sex and were abusive and violent to them. It didn't matter whether a character was living in a rural tribe or in a larger city. About 90% of the men in this novel were macho bastards that ruled the women with an iron fist. There was no balance between the good and evil. There were a couple of male characters that had consciousnesses and souls, but it was never explained how or why they ended up with modern ideas about gender equality. I actually balked at re-picking the book up on numerous occasions. There was no way I could handle the boring descriptions, confusing characters, and seemingly improbable, or at least overly demonic, situations and characters. The scope of the book was too large for what the final product was.
The setting of the story was unique and interesting. It was one of the few redeeming qualities of the book. However, Tanzania was not described vividly enough, and the jumping around to cities and rural villages was not tracked well enough. Consequently, the reader felt disjointed as to where the author was taking them and why.
The story and plot had potential if the author could have cut down the scope and focus. Instead of using a lot of women to highlight the troubles of Tanzania, she could have featured one person. That one person could have experienced or seen the murdering of Albino babies, burning of witches, polygamous marriages, rapes, and the unsafe abortions (just a few of the topics addressed in the novel). Even then, choosing one or two problems to highlight would have been easier to understand rather than showing everything that was wrong with the undeveloped nation. I also didn't understand why she included the little story about colonization that Abe told Kabula's daughter. It seemed like an unnecessary detail that was never revisited later on in the book. In fact, Western Civilization was highlighted as being the only way the women would gain power and control in their country. The women who attended schools fared better than the ones who continued to practice the traditions of their people. In fact, the most powerful woman in the book is Pili, who is a captlist in Tanzania. She owns many lucrative businesses both in the villages and cities and because of all the money she has, she instills fear and respect in otherwise unruly men. There were very few traditions that were highlighted as important or worth keeping until the end of the book when the women focus on mat making, pottery sculpting, and hair braiding. Western modernization was depicted as the ultimate solution for women "under man's spell."
The character development of the women was especially weak, which made it difficult to connect with their troubles. The most engaging ones were Abe and Esta, very different women separated by over a generation of time. Abe is oppressed by the traditions of her family while Esta is liberated thanks to the strength of her mother, who separated herself from the destructive ways of her family. It was very easy to get confused as to what happened to them, though, because there were many other main female characters that were highlighted as well as numerous supporting ones. The supporting characters were constantly being used to show how terrible the women in Tanzania fared, both with their men and with each other.
There were some blatant themes and motifs expressed in the book. First, women were controlled by chauvinistic and macho men who ruled with superstitions, fears, and traditions that were dangerous for the women. Women are not only pitted against men but each other. There are very few who work together to make a difference until the end of the book, spurred by the modern thinking Pili, Esta, and Elizabeth. Western modernization was also highlighted as a saving grace for the women. In order to survive, the women needed to embrace Western education and capitalism while leaving their traditions in the bush with other uncouth animals. That is the only way to survive. When some of the women band together at the end of the novel, changes are slowly implemented. The author is at least realistic in her approach at showing that a nation will take many years to change its way of life so drastically. So, she shows the seeds being sown but with no conclusive evidence if any of them took root and grew. Overall, the themes were pretty basic and predictable considering how the elements of traditional Tanzania was approached. I would have enjoyed a less dichotomous perspective because tradition and modernity don't necessarily need to be exclusive of each other.
A lot of the themes of the book, as well as the lack of connection with the characters, could be a reflection of the approach the author took. First, J.K. Muta is an American educated business major. So, she was not trained to write with the usual skill that other writers have. Second, her message and purpose of the writing was heavily influenced by her American experiences. She came to the U.S. after graduating high school in Tanzania and enrolled in college here. She got her degrees and stayed in the states. She "modernized" herself to a Western lifestyle and way of thinking. She let go of the past because of the problems associated with her culture and peoples. Thus, she highlights the saving grace of Western education and capitalism without harboring any sense of loss for the customs that will disappear over time. Even the simple act of eating on the mats that the women weave is looked down upon by the modern and educated main characters because it requires them to sit on the floor. There is no battle between tradition and civilization like there was in Things Fall Apart. Everything is laid bare as being very black and white. It's either good or evil. A third problem with the way the author approached the book was that much of what she wrote is based on stories she was told, probably from family members or friends that were left behind in Tanzania. Because she did not actually experience the atrocities she describes and because she wants to maintain the reality of it all, the writing comes off being extremely cold and unfeeling. This is a failing of many books that are fictional but based on real life events. It is hard to combine fiction with nonfiction and historical data without losing some of the details or strengths of their separate genres.
Unfortunately, this book did not compel me to learn more about Tanzania like other fictional world literatures have. It left me feeling bored and unfilled by the conclusion, which ended too hopefully and neatly for the main Westernized women considering all the horrible situations that were described even up to the second to last page. The entire book was overly dramatized and the most graphic scenes felt somehow muted by the way they were told. Yes, I was horrified by everything the women had to face. Yes, much of it was wrong and backward superstitions. However, it cannot all be described as a failing of the culture or the men. As demonstrated with Abe, many of the women were involved in the generational hatreds that the people carried. This attribute cannot be blamed solely on the men regardless of their polygamous society, which isn't always "bad." Again, claiming that polygamy was the root of the evil and gender problems between men and women felt like a very Western and Christian approach. At many points during my reading, it appeared that the author was making an argument for colonization, one such example was during the Christian Bible reading scenes conducted by the very wealthy Pili. It was only through the influences of colonial Europe that these changes were implemented. Without them, Tanzania would still be "backward" in their belief system.
Overall, the layout of the actual book was appropriate. It had engaging cover art which highlights an important event in the story. The cover font, although not an attractive style, was legible. The title was also appropriate for the themes and issues explored in the book, implying that men are the real "witches" because they are the ones with the power to spell and enslave the women, as made apparent by Rose who constantly fights for the love and attention of a man that plays the field. The font inside the book was also appealing to the reader's eyes.
The book had other saving points, such as the overall message for women's liberation, equality, and education. I didn't agree with all the authors' solutions to the problems nor her assumptions as to why these problems exist in Tanzania. The best scene that expressed hope and change was the gathering of the tribal women at the end of the book. It was designed to secretly teach the women a trade that would make them more independent from their husbands. I appreciated that the movement started from within their country and by their people rather than an outside Western force. The idea of the UWT chapter (Tanzania Women's Organization) that Pili, Esta, and Elizabeth tried to start at the end of the book was also a very clever idea that would promote healthy and important changes from within. I was disappointed that this idea was only brought up at the end of the novel, and that the characters involved could only dedicate a couple of weeks' time to the endeavor. Everything at the end of the book felt rushed so the author could clean up loose ends before letting her liberated female characters live happily ever after.
After reading Under Man's Spell, I wouldn't recommend it to many. It's not engaging enough to captivate the average reader. If you have an interest in world literatures, Africa, Tanzania, and gender issues, then this book will be a worthy read just to garner another perspective of the issues women face. However, there are no factual references, so it's difficult to tell how much of the information came from stories of a very distant past or modern day problems that the women currently face. Supplementing the reading with your own research will further your understanding of the book and its message. For example, I found The Policy on Women in Development in Tanzania a useful supplemental article to Under Man's Spell because it offers an introductory exploration of how the Tanzania government tries to promote equality among its people. Since there is a lot of violent acts against women in the book, a mature adult audience is highly recommended.
In the end, I don't regret reading Under Man's Spell despite my disappointments and boredom with the way it was written. There was some useful information expressed although none of the data can be easily verified as fact or fiction. My biggest complaint was with the author herself. She is a novice compared to others writing in this genre style....more
The book had a meaningful theme about the eternal war between science and religion. The main characters, Vittoria and Langdon, become involved in a diThe book had a meaningful theme about the eternal war between science and religion. The main characters, Vittoria and Langdon, become involved in a diabolical plot to destroy the Vatican. They must solve puzzles in order to save the Catholic Church as well as four kidnapped cardinals. There is a lot of blood and gore, which can detract from the plot. The ending is rushed and superficial, which contrasts sharply with the exciting beginning. When you first open the book, you are amazed by the story and plot. However, the last 100 pages or so really ruin the novel....more
As most of Nabokov's books are, this one was an exceptional joy to read. Even though the subject matter is deplorable, the writing style, imagery, andAs most of Nabokov's books are, this one was an exceptional joy to read. Even though the subject matter is deplorable, the writing style, imagery, and emotions that comprise this story make it a great piece of literary fiction.
As I read the book, I found myself in another time and place that was described by a detestable pedophile named Humbert Humbert. From the very beginning of the book, it's easy to tell that he is an unreliable and disturbed narrator. His distorted view of life and his "relationship" with Lolita is supposed to make the women and men of the jury pity his pathetic existence. He considers himself an educated individual who was unjustly accused of a crime. Instead, his musings reveal him as an unstable monster; no better than the "brother" he tries to protect Lolita from.
Every person the reader meets is distorted by Humbert's eyes, especially little Dolores Haze. He not only takes her innocence but her very name, which transforms from Dolores to Lo, Lolita, and eventually his nymphet. It is difficult to tell the nature of the characters because Humbert polarizes them: They are either a threat to his way of life or a mere annoyance not worth notice.
There were many questions I asked when reading the book: What is the truth? What is fiction? Is the entire book merely the imagination of a crazed pedophile? Who is Lolita outside of Humbert's prisoner? Often, these questions did not have any answers, but glimpses of solutions kept me feverishly reading, especially as they concerned Lolita. She is the real mystery. Even though the story is about her, the reader never sees anything from her perspective, which leaves us feeling helpless. We are a victim of Humbert's madness as well!
There were numerous slow spots to the story, which detract from the main interactions between Lolita and Humbert. After a short break from the reading, though, I was able to engage myself in the description of scenery during the characters' travels. The places they go to are reflections of their personalities. The beauty of nature starkly contrasts with Humbert, who is an abomination to all that is right and moral in the world.
Thankfully, there are no pornographic scenes in the book. Instead, Nabokov hints at the sexual intrigues that occur with clever word play. Anyone with an imagination and an understanding of the English language will know what is going on in certain scenes. This type of writing reminds me of the older horror films where a lot of the macabre killing happened off-screen.
Overall, I can see why this book has been challenged and censored in many parts of the world. It forces the reader to look into the darkest parts of human nature. What we find there is disheartening; there is no hope for redemption. ...more
This is one of the largest books I have read in a long time. When I first started reading, the sheer weight and length of the book intimidated me. HowThis is one of the largest books I have read in a long time. When I first started reading, the sheer weight and length of the book intimidated me. However, Follett's ability to create a mystery from the very first pages of the book held me captivated. Set in southern England between the years 1123–1174, this historical fiction novel not only explores the period of anarchy between the reign of King Henry I and King Henry II but the every day lives of the citizens (from a range of social classes). All characters were engaging, my two favorites being Aliena and Prior Philip. Most of the villains had redeeming qualities about them, which made them less one dimensional. My main problems with the novel, and why I rated it three stars instead of five, were the length, the villain William, and the ending. Because it was such a long book, there were a lot of high points and low points. As a reader, I felt discouraged that this up/down trend had no breaking point. When the "heroes" gained ground, their hopes and triumphs were quickly dashed by the "villains" of the book. Part of me wonders if Follett was trying to mimic real life, which can throw as many high and low moments at you as this book. However, some of the historical knowledge of cathedrals seemed unnecessary too. Second, William was very one-dimensional. Follett tried to get the reader to relate to him, but I despised him throughout the book, unlike Waleran and Remiguis. Finally, the ending was anti-climatic. After such a rollar coaster of a book, I expected more at the end. I was sorely disappointed by the outcome and felt like the beginning did more justice to the book than the conclusion. One other point that I wish was addressed and developed earlier in the book was the character of Archbishop Thomas Becket. He was a powerful force at the end of the novel, and I wanted to learn more about him earlier on. Despite its flaws, I am glad I read this book. It has inspired me to do some historical research during my free time about some of the people and events in the book....more
Flowers for Algernon is about a mentally challenged 32 year old man named Charlie Gordon and a mouse named Algernon. Charlie is chosen by a team of scFlowers for Algernon is about a mentally challenged 32 year old man named Charlie Gordon and a mouse named Algernon. Charlie is chosen by a team of scientists to undergo an experimental surgery that will boost his intelligence. The book is written in a journal/progress report style told through Charlie's perspective. Because of this style, the story is very one-sided and the action is limited and slow at times. The scientific information in the book is not overwhelming and is suitable for any audience. Some parts are overly dramatic and feel as if it is written for a teen rather than an adult audience. Overall, this book causes the reader to examine all types of people and how they are treated in society. This book was especially moving for me because I have a mentally-challenged brother with Down Syndrome. This book gave me a small glimpse into what his world might look like. I hope Flowers for Algernon inspires people to change the way they treat others. Being different does not mean weird, mean, bad, etc. Differences make humanity beautiful, and more people should embrace them rather than shy away from them....more